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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What I Believe

Nonbelievers like myself, ascribing to no established religion, spend much of their time defining themselves in terms of all the ideas they fail to align with. The handiest words for us are AGNOSTIC or ATHEIST, which just mean NOT those other things. But having no religion or nameable god doesn’t mean having no beliefs. (Early Christians were apparently called Atheists by the Romans, because of their refusal to worship the Roman pantheon.) I have plenty. They just require fuller explanations, because there is no single label for a prepackaged set of ideas I can claim.

Stating my beliefs seems relevant right now, especially because my wife has imminent plans for a Christian dedication ceremony for our daughter. I have mixed feelings about this, but her church is one of the better ones, and I have no trouble with the people there. Their particular version of Christianity is one I consider respectable (surprisingly, though, it is the same denomination that brought us the poisoned Kool-Aid of Jim Jones). Still, even if I disliked it, it would be hard for me to stake claim to any alternative, because there is no name for what I am, no place for me to go, no community of like-minded people to shelter in. And that is a big reason why atheists/agnostics/skeptics tend to go quietly, at least in this country—not only are they non-joiners in a non-movement, they have no banner to rally under, no real name, and of course no big prizes to offer:

    “Hey, jump aboard.”
    “Who are you guys?”
    “Um, agnostics. Atheists when we get cranky.”
    “You’re devil worshipers, right?”
    “Pshaw! No.”
    “What are you into again?”
    “Empiricism, I guess.”
    “Huh? What’s that?”
     “We just go around not believing silly things.”
    “Hm. What do I get?”
    “You’ll live by your wits, go it alone, and then when you’re dead, you’re dead.”
    “Those other guys are offering eternal life, Heaven, even squads of virgins.”
    “Nope, ain’t happening.”
    “They have ceremonies, feasts, and really nice old buildings.”
    “I guess we could have potlucks. But most of the best cooks are monotheists.”
    “And they’re tax-free.”
    “Oh yeah. Crap.”

Oddly enough, a statement of beliefs would benefit many religious people these days, too—most Christians, for example, disagree with at least one thing in the Bible, or in the common culture of their denomination. I think most religious people actually know less about their beliefs than those who have gone so far as to opt out of established religion. Most believers have accepted not only the expediency of a label, but the reality that some religious leader will be telling them what they should believe (that doesn’t mean they will follow blindly—the Catholic church, for example, is far from monolithic, which has had so many defections that the spinoff denominations need their own family tree, and the outright deserters are legion).

As for myself, I am basically an agnostic. No metaphysical thing is really known with certainty. I know that if all of human history has been spent on these problems, I am not going to nail it all down in my meager spare time. But we have arrived at a point where the mechanisms of the universe have been explained, with a few exceptions: 1) What kicked it all off? 2) Why? 3) The remarkable holistic illusion of being alive, moving through time, having continuity of consciousness. Mystery #2 above will, I believe, always be left to the individual by way of existentialism. There will always be mysteries, if for no other reason than our reliance on finite brains to comprehend an infinite cosmos.  

Or am I an atheist? If so, I am not a very aggressive one. As much as I enjoy reading Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, I am not motivated to disprove the existence of God, at least until some theistic foolishness is forced upon me. The problem is, that is all too common. Many a thinker has probably been minding his or her own business, silently piecing together a sensible worldview, when some overzealous religious person has come along spouting nonsense or making demands. Twice in the same bookstore, I have been on-hand for statements like, “People who don’t believe in God have no morals or values, because they have nothing to obey.” Not only does it show that the speaker has never taken a philosophy or ethics course, it betrays unthoughtful, threadbare stinginess of spirit. My argument tends to be just the opposite, and the same one that Hitchens and others have made: I do have morals and maybe the religious are the ones lacking them, because they seem to be saying that they will only do the right thing if they imagine a supernatural Dad-figure is watching their every move, at the ready with plagues of punishment. It’s like boasting that you are righteous because you’re against stealing now that stores have security cameras.

In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris wrote:

In fact, "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

Had I lived in the days of the Enlightenment, I would probably have been a Deist. I agree with all the operational notions of Deism: that truth comes from observing the natural world, and that reason and rational analysis are to be trusted, not pushed away in favor of passed-down lore and superstitions. It may also be very possible that man’s unhappiness derives from ignorance of his place in the workings of the universe. But in the end, I don’t believe in any omnipotent Creator/God/Prime Mover as the Deists did*. If ever I sat on the fence in this, I was pushed off it by my political antagonism for today’s purveyors of Creationism/Intelligent Design.

Existentialism appeals to me, especially in its meaningful embrace of absurdity, but I’m not sure about the basic idea that all meaning comes from the individual. Yes, each of us will have to decide why we are here. But bare existentialism flirts easily with nihilism, which doesn’t do much for me, or anyone.

Like any former academic/ armchair intellectual, I had a Joseph Campbell phase that left marks on me, so that I am wont to squeeze meaning from myths or belief systems of all sorts. “The Power of Myth” can be further universalized to what I call “the power of story.” Myths are common, traditional tales spun for multi-generational audiences, which does make them special, but people derive meaning from stories of all kinds, especially those that involve themselves, their ancestors, or their nation—hence ancestor worship, nationalism, and the ongoing culture wars between not only Islamic fundamentalism and Western modernity, but between religion and secularism in general. All these conflicts, even when rooted in physical confrontations over resources and control, evolve into cultural disagreements where each side wishes to overwrite its own story atop that of the opposition. Of course, this overwriting may require killing those responsible for the competing narrative; in a scenario like Israel/Palestine, the lethality of the conflict raises the stakes to the point where “the power of story” seems like a silly academic overlay. Still, frequent statements by both sides saying the other hasn’t the right to exist points to a desire to, more than anything, wipe away the other side to make room for their own apparently more just and divine story. The primacy of story is hard to dispute in the Israel conundrum, because it is based (at least rhetorically) on conflicting histories and dueling religious texts. At this point, trying to prove which story is ‘right’ is as impossible as proving one kid’s dad is better than another kid’s dad, or trying to confirm that Star Trek is empirically better than Star Wars. 

I think such conflicts could be solved if everyone could learn to read the text that is common to us all, which is the planet itself in all its geological and historical wisdom. Some call it The Book of Creation, and as authoritative texts go, it’s hard to beat, with chapters laid down over epochs in sediment and cataclysm, where entire species may fall to faded footnotes. Toss any edition of any holy book over the rim of the Grand Canyon, and see which suddenly seems like litter. I obviously sympathize with the man on the Nature special who treks through Yellowstone in winter and says of the surrounding snowy trees, “This is my church, my cathedral.”

But it is also too late in history to be a simple pagan. Human beings have proven they are full of enough potential greatness to justify a dash of humanism in one’s outlook. I say we deserve credit for our achievements. And when we fail, we fail ourselves first, not some Heavenly Father or some bloodthirsty goddess of the hunt. “God” is a handy shorthand for all that exceeds our grasp, for the fertile enormity of both known and unknowable, and perhaps our own abstracted potential. The greatest failing of religion as it has happened on planet Earth, apart from countless disasters of inhumane behavior, is an easily corruptible source code that allows frequent lapses from the metaphorical into the literal. Shortcomings in language, in translation, and in people’s minds turn slippery paradoxes and fantastic imagery into a bramble of confusion for literalists who approach it as an instruction manual. Yes, there is wisdom to be found in works like the Bible, but like any literature, they are metabolized in the mind by way of luminous images and illuminating metaphors. 

Why, above all, is religion in our time represented most loudly by those who use religion to diminish people so they can be controlled, or pitted against other groups? Has this always been the way, or has this evolved because of some sociopolitical underpinning, because viral ideas take on greater power the more people they infect, with the side effect that people become subservient to the idea (akin to sports-team loyalty) rather than becoming liberated and elevated? Or, how did the fearlessly selfless Jesus come to inspire so many fearful and selfish followers? My disgruntlement with such running hypocrisy—not to mention reading stuff like Stranger in a Strange Land as a youngster—predisposed me toward a rapport with the renegade fringe-prophets of Christianity: John Milton, William Blake, and Philip K. Dick. What they get right is the most vital ingredient of all spiritual matters: that religion should make everything bigger, not smaller. And rather than drawing boxes around us to squeeze us into little survivalist groups, religion should erase those boxes so we can expand a little into the looming infinity.

Numinous was one of Carl Sagan’s favorite words for describing the mind-expanding effect of coming to terms with the radical immensity and miraculous richness of the cosmos—that a human mind could arrive, by reason and the senses, at the same mystical elation that Blake claimed in fever-dreams, or Phil Dick experienced in probably-drug-induced visions into VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System)—the mind of God. Sagan obviously championed science as a path to enlightenment. He did it so well that, in his wake, one might make the joke that someday religion might also become a viable path to enlightenment. It may be a bit self-consciously postmodern of me, but I find that religion, like great art, science, or literature, ought to be a conduit of wonder, not a smother of rules and guilt. It should be a door forever swinging open.

*At least, as a verbal construct. As sons of the Enlightenment, many of the Founding Fathers were Deists who, I believe, used the word ‘God’ not as a worshipful Christian tic, but as a shorthand reference to the cosmos, eternity, or the universe. Jefferson in particular had no use for ideas that would today be called Fundamentalist or supernatural, and the founders in general were too canny and practical to fall for cartoonish beliefs that defied empirical reality.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Maintenance Miracle

The self-entombing, self-extracting bird
 Yesterday I was called to an office to investigate a problem. I think the guy said, "It sounds like a critter is in my ductwork." He was right. After shutting myself in the furnace closet for a minute, I heard scratching on metal. I told him it sounded like a bird trapped in the bath fan flue, and went to get my stuff. A woman in the office yelled, Oh no, get it out, it will die and stink!"

At my shop I picked up a flashlight, a Gopher-style grabber, and a long, narrow strip of carpet—thinking maybe I could slide it under him and his claws would get stuck in the weave.

Well, the bird was in a bend about 15 feet down from the roof, and about 10 feet over from the bathroom fan ("fart fan," as the plumbers call them). Too far from either end to use any of my tools. I would probably have to cut open the duct near the bend... which would cause him to run from the disturbance. I decided to remove the fart fan joint so I could look in. Maybe I could at least see who was in there.

Removing the flex-hose from the rigid duct opened a 6-inch hole on the bottom of the long horizontal run of the duct. When my flashlight lit up the opening, I could hear the bird take a few steps at the other end, then stop. I made a few peep sounds, and he came closer. I could only see a few inches beyond the opening, so I put my phone through the hole and used the camera as a periscope. I still couldn't see the bird.

Then I remembered that the BabySoothe app on my phone has BIRDSONG on the menu, so I turned that on. The bird came trotting right down to the opening and I took his picture. (That's the part of the story where my wife said, "Cute! I love you, bird!") I held my hat under the hole and shined the flashlight on it. In only about ten seconds, he hopped down into my hat!

But, with hat, phone, and flashlight in my hands, I couldn't grab him. While setting down the phone, he flew off into the space between ceiling grid and second floor. Still a problem, but better. I moved down the ladder one rung and replaced the flexi-hose so he couldn't go back into the ductwork. I climbed down, closed the bathroom and shut off the light, setting the chirping phone atop a cabinet below the open ceiling tile. I pointed the light up at the phone. In less than a minute, the bird fluttered right down to the phone and sat right on it, as if trying to step into the little box of birdsong. (Again to the later delight of my wife). I climbed up and set the ceiling tile back so he was stuck in the bathroom with me. Intermittently dazzling him with the flashlight, I grabbed him behind the plunger in 2-3 attempts. Then I took him out, showed him off to three of the office workers, and tossed him outside.

Less challenging than rescuing 33 Bolivian miners, but almost as heartwarming.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Missed Another Boat

About five years ago, I started writing a story that ended up being made into a movie. I never finished my story--"My Dad vs the Robot"-- but like many ideas whose time has come, it has arrived nonetheless--as "Robot and Frank." There are no connections, and no one stole my idea, and I haven't even seen the movie yet, but I want to. It sounds like an urban version of my story, which was basically just me imagining a scenario where my dad outlives my mom, and continues his cranky existence on the farm, but his son (a version of me) gets him a robot assistant like the Honda Asimo prototype invented several years ago, but with artificial intelligence (I even had some processing details worked out, about something called "Spectrum-bit processing," where the computer used optical wavelengths in lieu of binary, making for shading in its approximation of human thought).

Where the Frank Langella character is a former burglar who tries to get back into stealing against the better judgment of the robot, my dad is an old redneck who sometimes gives cops hell and generally thumbs his nose at the world. My robot was named Rodolfo, because it was made in Mexico, which would of course rile my "dad" into making jerk jokes at the expense of Latino cybernetics, etc. Of course there would be some dark times, but mostly funny stuff like Rodolfo stopping my dad from blowing his brains out in the pasture with a shotgun, and finally after my dad character dies, he wills the chicken coop to the robot, because it seemed to enjoy feeding the chickens. That last part was the biggest stretch for the "science fiction," since my dad would never do anything so wussy as to make out a will, but I guess that was just one of many challenges that stopped my writing after four pages. That, and the fact that no one would have read it anyway.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gibberish in Babyville

Sometimes our baby channels my old school chum, Chris DeLozier

When you have a baby, especially one with a 4-syllable name raised by verbally overactive parents, the nicknames sort of flow logorrheically. Here is an incomplete list of Penelope's many handles:

Bibo, Pea/P, P-pod, Swee' Pea, SweetP, Peanut, Cutie, CoCo, Bud-E, Soy Pig, Bibble, Penelope (pronounced like cantaloupe), Plopp, Ploppy, Disaster Pants, Banana, Li'l Delozier, Li'l Struggles, Li'l Caesar, Eggbutt, Rage Baby, Punchy, Mean BB, Sugar Pop, Sugar, Booger, Booger Pod, Burple, Sniffle, Snizzle, Sissy, Taco Toes, Fussypants, Fuss-o-matic, Grumple, Plumpy Nut, Tinkletoes, Tinkertot, Gerd-E, BABY!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Through a Hambone Monocle

Here is the gist of my art show, currently at Good Girl Art Gallery in Springfield, MO. It collects mostly recent highlights from illustration projects, often collaborations with other writers and artists.

"Yomi" wall: showing images from WONDER GIRL IN MONSTERLAND, poems by Brenda Sieczkowski.

"Uncle Knuckle" wall: images for UNCLE KNUCKLE'S PREPOSTEROUS NARRATIONS, all by KAt Philbin, except the cover by me.
KAt's walls: Tiny framed art by Kat (so outstanding I bought a few as the show began), and her prints, just as great.

"Red Rogue" and "Scoot, Newt" sections: Older stuff, including drawings for a collection of children's poems by Gordon Thompson, a grad-school mate from my time in Florida.

"Potato" wall: Scenes from "The Life and Death of a Potato," and its spin-offs, "The Potato Revolution," and "Annotatoes."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New News

An all-new edition of Uncle Knuckle's Preposterous Narrations is ascendant on Amazon, now with illustrations by the mysterious Kat Philbin. Here is one now, for the story "Bigfoot's Best Friend," also featuring a few new paragraphs and a peppering of mulled-over modifiers. Still only $1, partly because I can't figure out how to include more than 4 pictures in the book without it crashing the Amazon uploader.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Funeral in Monsterland

Art show at Good Girl Art fast approaching. Not much new work happening, unless I can hang baby pictures and dirty diapers.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Prenatal Anxiety

The baby is here, already tired from managing all her tubes.

Unborn Unknowns

“Of all the major birth defects, this is the one to have.”

For a while, that was the good news. But the patient was no larger than an acorn, making the diagnosis difficult to pin down from our macroscopic viewpoint there on the outside of my wife. Sure, our doctor looked like Billy Bob Thornton and had a peculiar way of sitting on the edge of a chair, but there was no reason to doubt his esoteric, jargon-laced explanation of our first ultrasound: gastroschesis. He traced the glowing images with his pen, outlining the tragic dimensions of our bubble-on-bubble error in mitosis. To borrow the ruthless later phrasing of a cudgel-tongued friend of mine, our baby would be born with its guts in its lap.

Good news, because, in this age of medical miracles, it was deemed fixable. It is essentially just an epic hernia—a hernia from Hollywood, or from video games—except for the auxiliary complications. The ruptured section of intestine is unprotected, which can lead to “bowel death”—a phrase that is either funny or horrifying, depending on if you are or are not Beavis and Butthead. Worse, the test for spina bifida would come back positive regardless, because gastroschisis dumps the same chemical markers (and probably others) into the amniotic fluid. “Other related birth defects are rare,” states the gastroschisis literature. But one of my mind’s early assertions was, “Just because we have one problem, doesn’t mean we can’t have another.”

We were not yet parents, but we were getting a high-octane preview of that special anxiety accompanying the stewardship of life itself. We soon scheduled our own blood tests for genetic disorders, but how far would we go after that? Amniocentesis seemed inevitable (and we would have a narrow window for it after our bloodwork came back), until I learned that it came with a danger of miscarriage. After two recent miscarriages and a 40th birthday, my wife insisted that this was our last shot. (I asked her to keep an open mind, if for no other reason than to avoid the additional stress of  “last chance” thinking—but was I just keeping a door open for abortive thinking?) The options dwindled as the stakes rose.

Every parent-to-be faces the void of uncertainty, but bad news has a way of setting precedent. Although there is nothing you can do to fix it, do you just sit back and let it swallow your outlook whole, let it become, as they say, your “new normal”? The technology brought to bear at this stage, while amazing, offered no immediate treatments or solutions. We could only hang on our little tadpole’s every wiggle and sonagraphic phantom, watching it like a shadow-puppet’s negative in the dim theater of the ultrasound room. We listened to our doctors, but each night we became like banished Eskimos, adrift on our ice floe of worry.

In this morass of gloomy predictions and ethical dilemmas—another era’s “dark night of the soul”—one’s mind scrapes at religion’s root: Why did this happen? Is there nothing to be done for it? Operating on the faint fringes of medical knowledge, most people find faith their last assurance. Not only do we want, in the words of Nick Cave, to “call upon the author to explain,” we also might like said author in our corner. But in the author’s utter and everlasting silence, I have yet to pick out a central narrative, or identify a willingness to take sides.

Our bloodwork came back normal. Then new ultrasounds ushered in a new diagnosis: omphalocele would be our new nemesis. It’s rarer, and potentially more serious, and with a whole different set of correlating problems: high concurrence (40-50%) with heart defects and genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome and the variously evil “isotopes” of Trisomy. It is often more challenging for surgeons because it affects structures closer to the symmetrical core of the body, such as genitalia. The delivery might be moved to a bigger city, for access to specialists.

Luckily, omphalocele has no known risk factors, so neither of us had to assign blame or regret. Well, there was one, but it was insignificant: aspirin taken to reduce the risk of miscarriage may have doubled the likeliness of this defect—from 1 in 5000 to the ballpark of 2 in 5000. Almost negligible, but still enough to briefly upset Heather. And insufficient to erase the litany of other ticklish doubts—was it radon gas, cell phone radiation, weed killer, my offensiveness to God? I refused to color it with meaning, even in the karma-centric way. My sister, after giving birth to a dwarf, said the universe gives people what they can handle. That is a healthy worldview, as long as you can handle what the universe dumps on you (Can you handle it, AIDS-afflicted Sudanese woman watching your third child die of diarrhea and guinea worm?). On the other hand, I think “Shit Happens” is so tired that it doesn’t even make a good t-shirt anymore, much less an operable worldview, but it remains metaphysically irrefutable.

Of course, the cause mattered less than the effect. With our usual irreverence, we laid out our demands. Heather made a slogan-worthy statement which we repeated for our own amusement: “Maybe we can do without a bladder, but a central nervous system is a must.” We agreed that certain agonies are simply too much to ask. For those parents who want to go full-term with Trisomy 13, I wish them well, but I decline to fuel a misery engine. There’s only so much crippling a little bird can shoulder before I will step on it. For those who say human life is set apart, I say, if a life carries the burden of human inviolability, it should also be granted a modicum of human aspiration. I may lack religion, but I have beliefs. One is that death can equal mercy in a situation where suffering is the central theme.

Proto-parenting was now the most formidable of Gordian knots: one still knotting itself, deepening its own complexity, and bound by flesh and blood to the core of an indispensable person. We were already triangulating on the needs of three people: Could the child be functional enough to be happy, with a modicum of comfort? How would that measure against my own resentment of a lifelong burden for us all, or against my wife’s resentment if I vote to end a pregnancy that she is unwilling to end? Call me whatever you need to; I’ve saved as many turtles from the road as the next guy.

We failed, in truth, to draft a detailed agreement over conditions warranting abortion. While we are both politically “pro-choice,” Heather’s line is clearly drawn closer to pro-life than mine. Luckily, better (if indecisive) news began to trickle in—most organs shaping up, proper head-to-body proportions, measurements galore “in the normal range,” the favorite phrase of cautious encouragement from Team Prenatal.

At one point, we went through a period of information stagnation. After their initial, stunning pronouncements, our doctors became masters of the noncommittal. Dr. Billy Bob remained quick on the draw with laser-precise statistics, but holstered anything resembling positivity. Our soft-spoken genetic counselor offered sensible timeframes and testing options (and to anyone looking for political fuel, there wasn’t any— “abortion” and its euphemisms seemed nonexistent, though there were times when it hung over us like a shadow, and I wished someone would just say the word). We met with our surgeon-to-be, taking heart from his no-nonsense gumption and his Greco-Roman wrestler’s physicality. We met the heads of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, first a lady like your dream of the perfect kindergarten teacher, then an Indian man as tall as Paul Bunyan but otherwise very much the opposite of a lumberjack, with lush, aerodynamic hair and “a quarter-century of experience” in all things baby. All were helpful, comforting people, but their answers to any real questions were predictably vague, hinging often on the phrase “every baby is different.” One could tell that they were trained, either by schooling or experience, to be on guard against dispensing false hope—slippery in the highest sense. Litigative shyness aside, no one can navigate the impossible for you.

In the hinterlands between dread and hope, wishful thinking abounds. If you want people to pray for you, put a troubled fetus into play. People will pray. You only have to decide what that is worth. Even if you are a godless castaway like me, my advice is to accept. Their hotline to heaven may be as productive as burping down a well, but it’s free, and if you can’t stomach an irrational expression of goodwill, you might make the dreariest, most Santa-killing parent ever.

Peanut, rutabaga, grapefruit… as our baby grew through the many produce-themed size comparisons, our personality traits held fast. Faced with problems, I, like the horse in Animal Farm, will work harder—though not always on things that really matter. Some of Heather’s anxiety manifests in OCD subroutines that can border on the occult. When I recently took over the vacuuming chores, I discovered that the wincingly stale remnant of Sprite in a plastic bottle that I picked up and gulped down in mid-sweeper sweep, was apparently some sort of talisman: “Oh no!” she said, “that’s been there the whole pregnancy!” I guess I broke some kind of spell. But if the prayer people get credit for good turns, then I should, too: not only did I drink the OCD Sprite, but each day, I review the “Healthy Bibo wish collage stuck to our closet wall.

During the pregnancy, Heather has googled herself ragged, even against doctors’ advice. After months of daily worry workouts, she has a midwife’s expertise in gestation. I realize we fit certain stereotypes: I, the male “fixer,” and she, the planner and talker. But this equates to more than simple personality type or gender trope. It’s biological proximity—the baby is not inside me, and I am not chemically programmed to protect it. I only feel it when my wife takes my hand to her belly for some of the more inspirational wiggles and bonks.

In these final weeks before the birth, the tide has mostly turned in our favor. An early apparent pinhole in the baby’s heart went away, and a portion of the extruded organs actually migrated  into the abdomen on their own. Body weight reached the normal range, and energetic fetal kung-fu is a constant. But we still have anxiety to burn. Intensive care will likely measure in the months. Infection lore became reality when my mother-in-law contracted MRSA. Just yesterday, I brought my wife to a trickle of tears with a cartoonish speculation on prepping the baby for surgery with a tiny little spoonful of anesthetic. I know I’m a jerk, but all I want is a baby who can someday call me one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Belated Red Rogue Easter Gag

22 years ago, I made a business-card-sized Red Rogue comic book, The Red Rogue Easter Special. It had 8 pages, each a scene where Red Rogue hid his eggs. Since I couldn't really draw, there were no people shown. Just eggs hidden in cow crap, high in a tree, by a mean dog, etc. By far the funniest thing abut the comic was the 5-cent cover price. Here is the joke to cap it off, for the immature completist.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

And now, a seasonal tale of madness and redemption, and a stolen internet photo...

The Vengeful Egg

The Easter Bunny finished another successful holiday. He could barely walk because his paws were so sore from hiding over 400 million eggs in one weekend. “I’m so dogamuffin tired,” he said, deciding to take a nap. But the moment he fell asleep, he entered a dream of an Easter egg with a mean face that was coming to get him. The egg was so mad that its face glowed hot and it floated above a vibrating battle-axe. The Easter Bunny woke up in a fright. He looked around, and he looked under his bed, but there was no egg with a mad face. But every time he went back to sleep, there was the egg, always coming closer, growing angrier and hotter.

He decided to go see his friend, Damon, who was an old mountain man living in Idaho—pretty far away from Easter Island, but the Easter Bunny had a special network of tunnels that made long-distance travel a snap. When he got there, Damon was sitting on a pile of potatoes eating a smoking black donut that he’d just cooked over a fire.

“Hi, Damon!” said the Easter Bunny. “What are your plans for all those potatoes?”
“Eh?” said Damon. “This is the plan—I sit on ‘em.”
“Oh, well, I suppose there are a lot of potatoes in Idaho…”
“Yep,” said Damon, “so many I just pile ‘em up, use ‘em for furniture. ‘Cept for the fattest ones, which I put a little sugar on and roast into donuts.” Damon was weird, but he maintained a healthy constitution and surprisingly good teeth.

The Easter Bunny told Damon about his scary egg nightmares, hoping that Damon would have some advice, because crazy old people who live in odd places have been known to have Yoda-like wisdom, or at least wrinkly faces and lots of stories.
    “I’ve had that dream,” Damon said. “I think it means….”
    “Okay, I’m waiting,” said the Easter Bunny.
    “… that you are scared of eggs.”
    “I don’t think that’s what it means, Damon.”
    “Well, why ASK ME, then? If you’re so smart, go figure it out yourself.” Damon was a little grumpy.
    “Could you just try again? Think harder this time.”
    “Hmmm.” After about three minutes, Damon said, “I guess you’re just sick of eggs. Why don’t you hide potatoes instead? At least if a potato stays hidden, it might grow in the dirt and make more potatoes, instead of just getting rotten like a lost egg.”
    The Easter Bunny had to sit down because this was quite an idea to swallow. Finally he said, “Damon, find me a nice, lightweight, ergonomic potato that I can handle with these old paws, and get me 400 million of them, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
    “That’s a lot of potatoes, high roller! Where do you think we are, Idaho?”
    “Yes, Damon. You’ve never even left Idaho as far as I know.”
    “I did once, but I hated everything that wasn’t in Idaho.” Damon looked mad.
    “We’re also going to need those potatoes in pastel colors,” said the bunny.
    Damon looked mad again, but he declared that Idaho’s potato-producing powers knew no limits, and if the world needed potatoes in pastel colors, THEN BY JOVE, IDAHO WOULD GROW THEM! So don’t be surprised if next Easter is all about potatoes.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Slug Slaughter

I feel a little bit bad about all of this passive murder, but something was eating "the Dickens" out of my broccoli plants. I spotted a slug one day, and decided to try this bowl of beer trick, adding a little sugar and water, recessing the bowl in the dirt on a rainy day. Holy shit! Dozens of slugs have drowned. On my second bowl, and still going strong. I guess beer is good for something after all.

Review of an Opulent Spring

A gush of warm weather incited a riot of blossoming over the past weeks.

Daffodils usually come first
Bradford pear--looks nice but smells like dead fish
Even the henbit weeds are getting pompous

Big tulip tree goes off like a petal bomb

Tulip tree close-up

Candytuft I planted last year to block chickweed invasion

Redbud buds--you can eat them

Violets, I guess

Monday, March 12, 2012

Potato Preview

A selection of scenes from "The Life and Death of a Potato," one year in the making and no end in sight. Because maybe you didn't know potatoes led such full lives.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Read Across America 2012

Another room full of 4th graders will soon test-listen to these fresh tales of dopey wonder, hot off the noggin.

The Legend of Golden Brown

Everyone knows all the bears in Yellowstone Park sleep through the winter, but there was this one bear who stayed up looking for food all winter because she didn’t get enough to eat. She wandered around looking for delicious things, but she was lucky to find even gross things. Two acorns are barely enough to feed a squirrel, but that’s all she found one day. She found a little dead grub-worm and put it between two pieces of bark, thinking “Oh what a sandwich I’ve made!” She bit into it and realized that the grub-worm was really just some old chewing gum someone spat out, but she ate it anyway. Thanks to her keen senses, a tickle of mint flavor left in the gum walloped her in the palate like an arctic blast.

In a campsite near Old Faithful, some slobs left a bunch of trash. The bear became very excited because she could smell ketchup and pop tarts. But when she licked all that garbage, there were only a few crumbs, and even those crumbs were tiny and stale. Everywhere she went, little birds and squirrels were already there, eating crumbs and seeds until there was no food in sight. It was very cold, so all the people were gone, probably snug inside their warm cave-boxes, just eating and eating and eating.

The bear found an empty coffee cup next to a dumpster. She licked one frozen drop out of it, then lifted one end of the dumpster and looked under. She saw a pack of croutons! She saw a frozen Tootsie Roll! She saw two pennies and a corndog stick! She scraped all those things into her cup and walked over to Old Faithful, which shot hot water high into the air. She put her cup out to catch hot water, about to turn her ingredients into a warm, comforting soup—but NO! The powerful jet of water grabbed her cup and blasted it high into the air. Her dream of hot soup was over, and she was hungrier and sadder than ever. She beat her belly with her paws and said, “Why? Why?”

Just when she thought she would give up, the bear spotted an orange pebble, enticing in its smooth, candy-like appearance. Could it be? Yes, it was a Reese’s Piece! It melted on her tongue, so delicious, but gone in an instant. She walked to the empty parking lot to search for more. Across the pavement, wind blew a thin layer of snow. All was barren, but for a few scattered gray lumps. She pawed them, but they were only dirty snow and ice—bumper-chunks fallen from the metal butts of cars. Maybe if she could drizzle them with some sort of syrup and eat them off an upside-down traffic cone...

Off in the distance she saw a rectangle on the frozen asphalt. Maybe it was a lost lunchbox, or better yet, a dead Happy Meal. Dead Happy Meals always smelled like human children, who leave behind a lot of food for some reason. The hungry bear could not understand leaving behind food. She was so hungry, she thought she might just punch out her own teeth and swallow them. She might even eat at Arby’s.

Tears wiggled in the hungry bear’s eyes so she could hardly see straight. She stumbled up to the dark rectangle, imagining it would be a box of graham crackers or a dead Happy Meal full of steaming fries and a fresh deer’s head. She planned on eating it all, including the toy prize, which would be a very fast but small remote-controlled Ferrari with gummy bears riding in it, except the gummy bears were actually a gummy alligator and a gummy Johnny Cash. Clearly she was going crazy at this point.

On top of the box, there were two knobs. She thought they might be Rolos or chocolate covered mints. “Dessert first,” she thought. Her long wet tongue licked them both—and stuck there! Her tongue was going crazy and her brain was buzzing, but she couldn’t get her tongue off the terrible chocolates of power, which were not chocolates at all, but cold metal knobs frozen to her tongue. Yes, the bear was licking a car battery. It was very heavy for a box the size of a dead Happy Meal. She lifted it in her paws and staggered away crying even harder. The battery made her so miserable, she forgot how hungry she was. In fact, she briefly lost all her higher brain functions, and waddled forward senselessly like a giant crying beast-baby.

Well, she wasn’t far from a ranger’s station, which had a nice warm light coming from the windows. She would normally avoid the rangers, because they tended to shoot her with darts and spray her with stuff that felt like bees stinging her eyes, but she wasn’t thinking straight. She walked right up to their door, broke the wooden steps of their porch, and banged on the door while moaning like Chewbacca when his spaceship won’t work. The rangers looked out their window. One of them said, “Get the tranks, Bobby! We got a live one!”

The bear woke up in a zoo, and never ate another dead Happy Meal. Instead, she grew fat and lazy eating good, nutritious zoo food, such as dead animals and whole grains. Her fur was now a rich golden hue, probably from the prolonged electrocution. She became known as Golden Brown, or Goldie for short, but only the park rangers named Bobby, Teresa, and Burt knew the whole story.

Bigfoot’s Dog

Bigfoot was very old, but still strong, and also a little bit stupid. He was always running around in the woods and mountains, staying hidden from humans, so naturally he got lonely. He decided to get a dog. He wanted a big dog that could keep his feet warm at night, and not be accidentally crushed by Bigfoot in the dark. It should also be unafraid of coyotes, wolves, and badgers. He’d had a dog once before, in the 1950s, and it got clobbered by a raccoon, which was just sad. It also died when it could not make it across the Missouri River, which was even sadder. Bigfoot felt bad for weeks, because he should have carried the dog across, but he was trying to toughen it up.

No, Bigfoot needed a serious, hefty, formidable dog. He refused to waste his time on a small, puny dog. He also needed a dog with a good, thick coat of hair for warmth, so Dobermans and Greyhounds were out. He thought maybe he just needed a wolf, but then he remembered, wolves are jerks.

To make a long story short, Bigfoot spied on some dog kennels and animal shelters, and eventually he got himself a dog. It was large, hairy, and somewhat stupid, just like Bigfoot. They were having a pretty good time running around, eating nuts, balancing on logs, and digging through sleeping people’s backpacks for candy bars and beef jerky at campsites in national parks. Once they even stole a canoe from an old man and left him stranded on a little island, but Bigfoot left him some beef jerky to live on. Then they hot-rodded that canoe all around Lake Superior. Because of Bigfoot’s ridiculous upper body strength, they could go nearly 40 mph in a canoe, which eventually led to a crash that left the canoe sticking out from the side of a cabin like a hatchet stuck in a log. By coincidence, the cabin belonged to the old man they left stuck on the island. So, when he finally made it home, he said over one hundred swear words.

So by and by, Bigfoot and his dog were living the good life, reaping nature’s bounty and maxxing out on fresh air. As if to demonstrate their carefree feelings, they lollygagged one day in a sunbeam. Bigfoot had his feet up on a stump. He picked his teeth with a little twig and fell asleep to the sound of his dog panting. When he woke up, the sun was going down. He looked around and thought something was missing. “Didn’t I have a dog here just a minute ago?”

Well, the dog had a lot of energy and liked to chase rabbits or weasels or whatever, so Bigfoot wasn’t worried yet. He listened carefully. He heard no barking, only birds singing and bugs buzzing. Five minutes passed, and then an hour. The sunset was over, and it was pretty dark. That’s when Bigfoot realized, he never named his dog, so he could not call it. Maybe the dog had waited every day to be named, and finally got mad and ran away! Bigfoot was very worried now. His eyes watered and his feet felt cold. “I don’t deserve a dog,” he thought. But he searched anyway.

It was almost dawn when Bigfoot’s outdoorsy stamina paid off. He found his dog, deep in a hidden mess of undergrowth. But something was different. The dog was in a large nest, laying on a bunch of eggs! “Oh, my dog is going to be a mother,” thought Bigfoot. He smacked his forehead. He could not believe he had forgotten that dogs like to lay their eggs in a private place. “I am so dumb,” thought Bigfoot. “I didn’t even know my dog was a girl, much less pregnant.”

Now Bigfoot was quite an eater of eggs. In fact, eggs were his favorite food. He really wanted to eat one, but the dog growled when he reached toward the nest. This reminded Bigfoot that eating his best friend’s eggs would be grossly uncivilized—even more so than his usual uncivilized lifestyle. So he made a resolution to eat none of the eggs, and be a good midwife to the dog until the puppies hatched. He saw feathers scattered all around the dog and said, “Oh, you are a good mama, dog! You even lined your nest with soft, warm feathers.”

For a few weeks, Bigfoot was running to and fro, fetching food and water so the dog would not have to leave her eggs. He caught her fresh salmon, and found some hunks of meatloaf from a trash can by a road. He stole a pillowcase from a clothesline, stuffed it with soft moss, and tucked it under the dog’s head gently. Everything was just right, but Bigfoot was a bundle of nerves. When would the puppies hatch?

Well, the magical day came. The eggs wiggled, cracked and peeped. The dog got up to help the babies out, licking them as Bigfoot cried with joy. He could hardly see, so he wiped his tears away. At first he was very sad, because the puppies seemed so ugly and weird. They had big wobbly heads, only two large feet (Bigfoot did like that), and weak little flipper arms instead of front legs. Something was very wrong with these puppies, but Bigfoot didn’t have the heart to give such bad news to the dog. Instead, he just patted her, saying, “Good dog!”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cat and Mouse

I trapped a cat this week. My wife trapped a mouse. There might be some Valentine's Day implications here, but probably nothing good.

Desk of Doom

I like to think the ludicrous shamble of my desk at work is some kind of compost heap of ideas. But maybe it's just a shame.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Video Retrospective

Two college-days classics, plus my two touching Xtranormal cartoon dramas, indexed chronologically for the nonsense completist.

Classics of Talking to My Mom
by: floppycrow

Easter Debate--Georgia & Raleigh
by: floppycrow

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Satan Repackaged

Celebrating two of my favorite Satans, Chernebog from Fantasia, and Venger from Dungeons and Dragons.

In retrospect, kudos to the creators at Disney and Marvel Studios, for these revamped Satans of childhood. Not only are they fresher than just going with "Satan" or "the Devil," but it was probably the only way to get project approval. I'm sure there are others—the Marvel Universe always used "Mephisto," for instance.

It's not easy being the embodiment of evil in a G-rated world.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Crossings at the River Styx

watch me change from pencil to ink in two easy steps

After a previous print and a few drawings of "underworld" subjects, I realized it must be time for a series. At the rate I work, it could take years. And of course, at the rate of damnation inherent in even imaginary people, it could take a lot of years to show a representative sampling of what crosses into the next world.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Birth of an E-book

Buy me for a dollar!

After repeated failure to upload the comic book version of "The Monkey and the Ghost Ship" to the Amazon/Kindle store, I backed up one technical level and e-published the storybook from whence it spewed. As it turns out, Kindle Direct Publishing is much more tolerant of text files than of graphics. Still, I managed to include a cover (above) and a few illustrations.

With minimal effort, the book can be read on almost any device. I do not own a Kindle, but I downloaded the Kindle App to my iPhone and can now reap colossal rewards. Another cool bonus is that you can get quite a few classic books for free—I got "The Three Musketeers" and "The Mysterious Stranger," even though I prefer not to read on a tiny screen. Good backup entertainment for when I get stuck in waiting rooms or fall down a well.

No reviews yet—I gave the book file away to most of the people who would ever have bothered to review it, and I'm not sure if the site will take reviews from people who have not bought it.

Monday, January 30, 2012


This one-page comic, done in haste for Eric Pervukhin's comic class in 1996, became a comedy hit a few years later on the University of Florida campus. Letters were written to the campus paper demanding that more comics in this vein be printed. Alas, such lightning strikes but once. Nothing else in my stable of pages has ever quite equaled it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Around dusk on Friday, I smelled skunk. Not uncommon where I work, and I'd smelled it a few times lately. I figured it was on Dummy, the black cat that hangs around my shop. Well, the smell got bastard strong. I saw nothing at first, but turned on some lights and found the skunk, slumped by a mower.
Oddly sleepy skunk, seemed sick or dying.
Before approaching this close with the camera, I rolled a round ball at it, under the length of a flatbed trailer. It seemed barely alert, but the ball did make it stand up and raise its tail a bit. Then it just lay there. I threw half a hot-dog bun at it, another crack shot that nudged right up to the skunk's head. Little effect. I think it finally sniffed the bun.

In this enhanced photo: weird skunk behavior, ball and bun in background.
Well, it was time to go home. I had planned on ordering Chinese food, but I forgot about that. The smell was quite bad, getting into my office even with the door closed. I finally chased the cat away, so he wouldn't block the skunk from leaving. Then I thought I had a good idea: leaf blower. Lots of dirt and sawdust on the floor would make it an unpleasant whirlwind that might drive the skunk out.

Well, it did make the skunk move. She just scooted under my mower and curled up. I poked the blower nozzle right near the mower deck, but she just hunkered. I just had to leave, but I left the garage door propped up on a brick so she could get out.

Saturday afternoon I checked. She seemed to be gone. But a more thorough search revealed her tucked under a shelf in the next room, right where I have to walk to open the bathroom door.

Well, I have a new roommate. New strategies for the coming week: water hose, lemon juice in squirt gun, hedge-apples rolled into corners, poison, maybe lasso training.

I also might need to get rid of the 20+ gallons of stale popcorn on the floor in a bag that I had been feeding to Dummy.